MLS Draft Spotlight: After battling through injury, McCrary eager to showcase versatility in MLS

MLS Draft Spotlight: After battling through injury, McCrary eager to showcase versatility in MLS

College Soccer

MLS Draft Spotlight: After battling through injury, McCrary eager to showcase versatility in MLS

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Photo by Jeffrey A. Camarati/UNC Athletic Communications

Photo by Jeffrey A. Camarati/UNC Athletic Communications

Jordan McCrary wasn’t going to let an ACL tear be the end of his story.

The 22-year-old defender finished his fifth year with North Carolina in 2015, and is one of the top-rated fullbacks available in the 2016 MLS Draft, which is scheduled for Jan. 14. While many players may see an injury as a setback, McCrary did not, and his time with the Tar Heels this past campaign proves just as much. He was one of only four players to start in all 20 games for the Tar Heels this year, and also provided a personal best five assists.

The talented fullback was forced to redshirt his senior season in 2014 after suffering the ACL injury during practice before the start of what would have been his final year. And while it took months to recover, McCrary told SBI he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Seeing the team as a “family,” McCrary said the injury taught him a lot about life and about the game.

“I wouldn’t say that I was neither happy nor sad about it,” McCrary told SBI. “I think things happen for a reason. For one, me sitting out for that year gave me a chance to be a leader off the field and be able to see the game in just a different way and just be able to experience the game in a different way. I think things happened the way they did, and it actually became a blessing.

“In the end, I’m actually happy that I had (the injury) because I got to see things differently as well,” he added, “and I just got to be around (my teammates and coaches) a little bit longer. On the field, I think it helped me develop as a player to learn the game just get my soccer IQ up a lot more.”

What makes McCrary highly sought after is his versatility, namely his ability to be a threat working with the attack down the left and right wings. He can play on either side of the defensive line, but he offers a lot more moving forward. In his years with the Tar Heels, McCrary was always one to help build attacks, working down the flanks to set up goal-scoring opportunities.

“It gives me two different options,” McCrary said of his versatility. “I like (attacking down the left and right) both, and when I’m on the left side, I’m confident with my left foot, but I can play the same left or right, just getting up and down and playing crosses in.

“On the left side, I’m able to cut in and get a shot off, and that just adds more of a threat if I can get a good shot on goal. On the right side, though, I can get much better crosses off. It’s a give or take. Do I want to get around and get to the end line and just slide a pass in for an assist or on the left side, do I want go in and try to cut in and go for the goal?”

While McCrary’s speed has been known to help him and the Tar Heels in attack, he is always quick to sprint back and help out on defense as well. His defensive capabilities should not be overlooked, especially since he has had top-rated centerbacks playing alongside him throughout his career at North Carolina. In 2015, McCrary started every single game alongside teammate Jonathan Campbell, who is a top-rated defender entering the upcoming draft as well, and said he learned a lot from former Tar Heels and current FC Dallas defender Matt Hedges.

“(Campbell) helped me mature in a way — in how to see the game defensively since we were always in the back,” McCrary said. “I would say that Matt Hedges, my freshman year, is someone that I really learned off of because he was the old guy and I was the young guy. And he was one of the calmest players I’ve probably played with at centerback. I think he really taught me a lot about that defensive role.”

McCrary and all of the other MLS hopefuls will have an opportunity to showcase their talent at the upcoming MLS Combine, which runs from Jan. 7-12. McCrary said he is really looking forward to showing what he is capable of on both sides of the formation. With no regrets and a strong season following a bad injury, he hopes coaches take notice of his abilities and determination to succeed.

“I just want to really show my quickness, my speed, as well as my soccer IQ, knowing when and where to play and slow it down and speed it up,” he said.

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